Eat. Drink. Denver.

In a rare moment of freedom during Philly Beer Week, I figure that, since I don’t have an actual beer in my hand (an odd feeling during this most holy of beer weeks) I should write a post about…. all those other beers I drank.

Lemme rewinds a bit: Upon realizing I would, in fact, graduate and have gainful employment, my first thought was I SHOULD TAKE A HUGE ENORMOUS TRIP TO CELEBRATE!! Then, I remembered I gave all my money to Penn for that fancy degree, so perhaps the better move would be a smaller, equally exciting trip that might not break the bank. Enter: Denver!

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What better place to visit than the first spot I vacationed DURING my grad school career? You might recall I headed out to Denver in October 2012 for Great American Beer Festival, arguably the coolest beer event I’ve ever been a part of since falling in love with suds… But this weekend, I wanted a little bit more relaxation. A little bit less scheduled events. And probably the same amount of delicious beer.

No surprise: Denver delivered.

Highlights included:

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Great Divide Brewing Company: Located in the heart of Denver, this was one of those spots you enter and you immediately feel at home. The speakers were blasting “We Built This City“, the bartenders were singing and dancing along with it, and the taproom was full of all types of folks. Bachelor parties, gal groups, older couples, there were even a few little ones scampering around (don’t worry, they were carded and forbidden to booze.) Friday afternoon was an excellent opportunity for a little brewery tour and happy hour of our own, so Melissa and I enjoyed a tasting flight of 6 beers before entering the touring area.

Spoiler alert: if you’re wearing flip flops, and don’t have glasses on, you’re in for a treat.

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That’s right. Jordan Maura Price rocking…. Crocs. *Shudders* Hopefully, never again. But, I get it…. safety first. Style: last.

The tour itself was pretty basic, very little new knowledge to the seasoned brewery tour vet like myself…. but the beer at the end (and at the beginning): woo, baby! Their Rumble IPA toed the line between hoppy, sweet, and complex. An IPA aged in oak? I can get behind this stylistic trend. Up next…

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Crooked Stave – An artisanal brewery/taproom located at The Source, this space was gorgeous. The pickins, unfortunately, were a little slim for us, but their sour ale/kombucha blends were refreshing and interesting and, when it came to a more classic sour style, tartness was brought by Between the Staves, a wild ale aged in cognac barrels. A nice boozy bite, I, clearly, was a fan.

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I shared SOME with Melissa…. but honestly, I get selfish around sours. SORRY NOT THAT SORRY!

Oh yeah, we also ate some stuff.

ImageJust an INSANE banh mi from D’Deli, Golden, CO’s premiere deli sandwichery, is a hop/skip/jump away from the Coors Brewing Factory. Which really didn’t mean a lot to me, since we didn’t go there, but it’s ALSO right around Mount Falcon and Red Rocks, where we enjoyed a casual 6 mile hike featuring a run-in with a rattlesnake and playing “dodge the mountain biker”. It involved drenching myself in sweat and caking my body in dirt. LOVE NATURE (I’m only 80% sarcastic right now.)

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After all that hiking, we really felt as though we earned those sammies. And as sloppy delicious as they were…. they really paled in comparison to the true (non-alcoholic) treat of the trip.

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OMG OMG OMG VOODOO DOUGHNUTS! Clockwise from the top right: Old Dirty Bastard (Raised yeast doughnut with chocolate frosting, Oreo’s™ and peanut butter!), blueberry cake doughnut (blueberry dough with a glaze), and the coup de grace, the Memphis Mafia (Fried dough with banana chunks and cinnamon covered in a glaze with chocolate frosting, peanut butter, peanuts and chocolate chips on top!)

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Me, for scale. That bad boy was about the size of my head…. and tasted far better than I imagine my head would taste.

I got back to Philly around 1 a.m. Sunday night (err… Monday morning technically?) and crashed the hardest. But not too hard… See, there’s this little Philly Beer Week thing with like, a thousand events, and I couldn’t very well miss that.

Cheers, Denver. You were good to the last drop/bite. I can’t wait to head back!

 

The Great American Beer Festival 2012

In all the hooplah of writing about pre-fest hot dogs, my pre-festival sours class, and my post-festival New Belgium tour, I forgot one very important part of my trip to Denver.

The ACTUAL Great American Beer Festival itself!!

I promise, it was more beautiful than this when I walked inside.

Thanks to BeerGram’s generosity, I had tickets to the festival and was able to bring my tiny buddy, Melissa. We also had a girlfriend, Imee, to round out the crew. We were ready for anything the brewers had to bring.

I’m a gentle giant.

The brewers…. they were ready for us as well. There was literally something for every possible tastebud and beer lover.

Goose Island’s Gingerbread Dream? Come to mama.

Prima Pils + Snyder’s Sourdough: Basic Math

One of the very best parts was the beer and pretzel pairing featuring Great Divide, Flying Dog, and hometown hero, Victory Brewing Company! And that’s just the beer…. My long-time love, Snyders of Hanover, provided honey twists, classic Sourdough pretzels, and YUMMY flavored pretzel pieces!

There was the GABF Brewpub Pavilion, complete with samples of snacks to pair with beer.  One of my favorites? Barely Buzzed Beehive CHEESE!

Cheese, please.

Utah, you do good on the cheese front.

I met some fantastic folks.  Namely?

Pennsylvania Pals!

Bill Covaleski, President and Brewmaster from Victory Brewing Company. He’s still working on figuring out the perfect pairing for a Philly soft pretzel….

Another little beer lady!

Andrea Sanchez-Reyes, the founder and CEO of Beergram (and my benefactor!)

And, don’t worry, I repped my friends/family of #NCBeer to the best of my ability.  At one point, dissatisfied with their lack of knowledge about Sexual Chocolate, I actually ended up behind the Foothills Brewing booth, lecturing newbs to the benefits of my favorite Winston-Salem brewery.

Sorry for the phone pic, but we were in the zone. the fun, Foothills zone.

Movember even made a little appearance, a few weeks early.

No Shave November? No shave NEVER!

It was, without question, the most fun I’ve ever had at a beer festival.

It was the first time that I went in with the mindset:

HEY! If you don’t like this beer, just pour it out. Don’t force yourself to drink every sample. When they overpour for you, don’t feel bad pouring some out. You’re not offending ANYONE. Bonus? No blacking out or feeling ill the next day.

The result? I left the festival just as excited and happy as when I came. I was happy as a clown, but (slightly) less silly than one.

There were pieces that weren’t great. I REFUSED to wait in the lines for Cigar City and Dogfish, as they were running anywhere from 30-45 minutes, and that just seemed a little outrageous. I figure I can always take a road trip to DE (and a much longer one to Florida) if I REALLY need to try those beers.

One of the MAJOR highlights? The line for the ladies’ room was like, 1/3 the length of the one for the men’s room. Seriously, this event was a sausage fest.

Hee hee

(at one point, quite literally, thanks to New Holland’s salami samples!)

After getting my fill of all the wild flavors some breweries were offering (gingerbread, green chili, peanut butter cup, strawberry, sage, keffir lime!! WHOAH!) I ended my night the way the only way that made sense; parked in front of the Bear Republic booth, sipping Racer 5 IPA until last call. Couldn’t have been more perfect.

My buddies at Bear Republic let me pose with their sweet ride….

After hot dogs, beer education, and 3.5 hours at the festival, I think it’s no surprise I slept like a baby.  I’m already scheming how I’ll get back next year…. If you can do it, I think GABF is NOT to be missed if you’re interested in craft beer.

What’s the wackiest flavor of beer you’ve ever tried?

I gotta say the Sage Saison from Epic Brewing was pretty wild….

If you’re not a beer person, ever try any of those wackadoo flavored vodkas? 

::shudder::

Rackhouse Beer School: Sours 101

Has anyone else noticed how trendy sour beers are lately? Well, maybe not “lately” but as a relative noob to the craft beer community, I had my hop-head phase, and am now full on riding the sour-beer train. Luckily, despite the trend being a few years old, I’m not too late to get in on the action. Some establishments are more than happy to continue the trend and perfect it to the best of their ability. And I am more than happy to consume their attempts in the meantime.

Enter: Rackhouse Beer School’s Sours 101 class!

(pulled from their website)

Talk about edu-tainment.

We showed up at Rackhouse Pub armed with an unquenchable thirst (it was GABF weekend and I hadn’t even had a SIP of beer. Ok, maybe a sip of a Coors Light on the plane, but only because I had a drink ticket that was about to expire and I knew I wouldn’t enjoy any of Colorado’s not-so-crafty brewery any other time over the weekend) ready to learn. And man, were they ready to teach.

Admit it…

The gold on Avery bottles reminds you of The Golden Ticket…. No? Just me?

Chad Yakobson of Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project, Andy Parker of Avery Brewing Company and Troy Casey of AC Golden hosted a guided talk and tasting of a selection of delicious sours to pucker the lips and pique the interest of all drinkers.

Fact: bottles look better with red wax covering them.

Wild Wild Brett Blue from Crooked Stave

And, the thing is, sometimes when dreamy men talk about beer with authority, I listen… but maybe I don’t always hear. It’s easy to be distracted by their blonde hair and knowledge of wild yeast strains.

The following is a picture I took of him which doesn’t do him an ounce of justice.

Be still, my heart.

I know I chuckled before at Greg Koch’s fan boys, but seriously, I don’t think I would’ve been able to speak if Andy had said a word to me. Luckily, I had my notes to distract me.

So studious

Things that I learned:

  • Just calling a beer a “sour” isn’t enough. The style is so unique to each beer, that the blanket statement can confuse drinkers.
  • It can take a LONG time to make a good sour (we’re talking 2-3 years).
  • A good sour beer makes you “gleek all over” (that’s a direct quote from Mr. Parker.)
  • There’s a high attrition rate for sours, and they can go from good to bad very easily.
  • “At some point, you gotta embrace the chaos…. some of that beer is gonna suck.”
  • Brettanomyces alone does not a sour beer make.
  • Sometimes, sour beers are super low in ABV…. other times (in the case of Avery’s Dihos Dactylion) it’s boozy as hell (10.3%, what a way to start!)

The class definitely focused a lot on HOW to make the sour beers and, though lots of the questions were over my head as a) I’m not a homebrewer and b) I was a little distracted, the experience was a great one.

Dihos Dactylion, Immitis, and Oud Floris

I think that the Oud Floris was my favorite of the bunch, tasting complex, tart, but a little smoother than the Dihos. Turns out it is a blend of 4 different beers (67% aged in Cab Sauv Barrels, 17% aged in Bourbon Barrels, 8% aged in Rum Barrels, and 8% aged in Chardonnay Barrels).

Chad from Crooked Stave probably knows enough about sour beers and yeast to school all potential brewers.

It was definitely the Chad.

His offerings, to me, received mixed reviews. I felt like the Wild Wild Brett Blue (WWBB) was dark and hoppy but almost a little too oat-y…. like cereal. He mentioned that oats and blueberries go together naturally, but it was a little chewy tasting for me.

Batch One (or Wild Wild Brett Rouge), on the other hand, was a delicious adventure for my tongue. Bright, sharp, and intense, the raspberry flavor was like a sassy slap to my tastebuds.

The final section of the class probably would’ve been better off going first. Troy from AC Golden, while knowledgeable and entertaining, offered beers much weaker in flavor and depth than the previous two fellows, and I think he maybe lost the crowd a little bit on that account. I know he lost me. So I had Melissa take a snapshot of my beer school experience.

Getting tipsy in class = win in my book

That’s Troy in the back, flailing around explaining how gross old apricots are…. Yeah, I basically mentally checked out.

Maybe that’s because, in a few short minutes, I was headed to my first ever GABF!

(or maybe I was just staring at Andy.)

Either way, great class, incredible prelude to the festival.  I guess I’ll have to share that one next….

 

 

Biker Jim’s Gourmet Dogs

I’m a lover of many things.

The University of North Carolina. Sour beers. Sleeping in. Philly soft pretzels. Hot dogs. Chilly mornings. Swimming in salt water. Learning. Jellyfish. Fancy cheese parties. Melissa.

You know, the best things in life.

On Friday, after waking up at an ungodly hour on Friday morning (equivalent to 2 a.m. Denver time), walking to the train station, training to the airport, and flying off to the Mile High City, I was greeted not just by one of those things (my hostess, MELISSA!) but, shortly after, 3 more of them.

I thought I’d be a zombie after traveling all day but, considering I slept about 2/3 of the 4 hour plane ride, I was surprisingly refreshed. When offered the chance to nap or to nibble, guess what I chose?

Not just ANY hot dogs

Biker Jim’s, according to the internet and the Colorado natives, is a Denver staple. These charred and grilled dogs are not your standard summer BBQ fare. Instead, the casing is filled with exotic meats like reindeer, wild boar, rattlesnake, elk, and buffalo.  Knowing that we had much beer ahead of us, we knew that we needed to fill our bellies to fuel our day/night.

I was initially a bit overwhelmed with the choices.

Too many options

While my North Carolina aching heart was initially distracted by the options of fried mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes and the side salad (HA, no, not even a little), Melissa reminded me of my real goal. The dogs.

After much deliberation, we decided to split two. Elk Jalapeño Cheddar and a Linguisa (Portuguese style  pork with paprika and red wine). When asked for a suggestion of what to top them with, the answer was nearly immediate:

[get them] torpedoed with Coca-Cola soaked grilled onions and a swizzle of cream cheese unloaded from the front end of a caulking gun.

Well, who am I to say no to the wisdom of the natives?

And, as I waited for my brats to cook, I watched the restaurant gradually get filled with a Friday lunch rush. You do NOT wanna stop in any time shortly after noon if you’re in a rush.

Quite the hood

And then, they were ready.

Stop drooling

The verdict?

Admittedly, the Linguisa was a little lacking with flavor. It was slightly sweeter than I like my dogs to be.  Luckily, I had my jalapeño cheddar half waiting for me in the wings.

It was juicy, it was full of flavor, and those onions should top any and all of my future meals.

Paired with some house-made potato chips which were crunchy (and also great with the onions), this food was the ideal energy boost for a LONG day of beer consumption.  And that’s what awaited us…

But I’ve got school to learn. So thanks, Biker Jim’s, for filling our bellies with the best brats Denver’s got!

Let’s DO THIS!

More GABF next post. Or, at least some sort of beer-related post.

 

GABF Teaser

Just in case y’all were wondering, I made it back from Denver in one piece (though my three pieces of luggage on the flight home may have suggested otherwise). And, though I’m cranking out a paper right now, I couldn’t resist posting a few pictures as a taste of the trip. That, and procrastination is the best way to recover post-GABF. I read that somewhere. In a book.

The Welcome Wagon was ALL over Denver! This was pre-tasty hot dogs at Biker Jim’s.

Who’s that peeking out of the corkscrew slide?

Making sure I fit in some learning with all that drinking

Beer and pretzels? My heart melts.

Recognize that phrase, anyone?

Ultimate in Craft Beer Couture

I was rocking on the haute hops attire courtesy of my buddy, Robin, who is the QUEEN of beer fashion (THANKS, ROBIN!!)

Ok, ok, ok.

I GUESS this whole graduate program is a LITTLE more important than gushing over GABF some more.

But only a little.